Saturday, 7 November 2015
'While Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that he is bombing Islamic State “terrorists” in Kafranbel, this cannot be true, or there is no way I would be able to move about freely. Kafranbel is known for its moderation and civil activism; I know that these are Putin’s real targets.
If civil activism in Kafranbel declines, though, I will blame Russia. One reason for our thriving civil society is that we are being defended by Free Syrian Army fighters who grew up in the town and are firmly committed to democracy. These fighters, who have received U.S. assistance, serve as a check on any extremist groups that try to cause trouble. Russia is bombing the pro-democracy fighters of Kafranbel most heavily, almost as if it wants the extremists to grow stronger. For this reason, Russia has emerged as an enemy of civil society here. Local activists have taken the rare steps of burning a Russian flag and protesting alongside local Free Syrian Army fighters to highlight this point.
' "There is a sort of competition now among the factions to excel in defending the areas so none of them can get accused of being a traitor for losing a strip of land," said Hadi Abdullah, an opposition activist who travels with the rebels to the front lines to report on fighting. "They come to the rescue of each other on their different turf."
"The regime is collapsing and only the Russians are propping them up," said Ahmed Saoud, a commander in the 13th Division, another American-based FSA faction that has gotten new infusions of TOWS and ammunition. "Even though we are the weakest link in the Syrian conflict, we will win with our weapons." '
'American-based' should presumably read 'American-backed', but is still a misnomer, it is the regional states that are supplying the weapons, the Americans' role has been to sanction the supply of weapons like manpads, and to groups that it doesn't like, including those that might advance too fast against Assad.
Thursday, 5 November 2015
'The Syrian government is using a policy of subjecting thousands of people to enforced disappearance as both a means to crush opposition and to make large amounts of money for itself, said Amnesty International in a new report today.
Civil Society is a Force that Threatens the Enemies of Democracy—Bashar al-Assad and Islamic Factions
'The regime forces laid siege to the city, indiscriminately attacking Aleppo with warplanes, barrel bombs, and heavy artillery, all while sowing the countryside with land mines. Additionally, Assad directly targeted the provincial council’s headquarters, severely damaging its ability to work in an efficient and effective manner. Thousands of civilians, faced with certain death should they remain in their homes, fled Aleppo in the first waves of what became the mass exodus from Syria’s industrial capital.
Salim, the pseudonym of a member of Aleppo’s provincial council, speaks mournfully about what could have been, “We (civil society and local governance groups) were able to restore electricity to most neighborhoods and reopen schools. Shoppers once again flocked to streets packed with vendors and salesmen, and the markets were busy. If the international community had only instituted the no-fly zone, Aleppo would be free today, and nearly a million people would not have fled to Europe.”
In rural Idlib, the infighting that plagued the national bodies in exile carried down to the provincial council, further harming its effectiveness. Similarly, the politicking and fighting between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) affiliated armed groups and moderate Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Suqur al-Sham carried down to the local councils. Though Jaish al-Fateh’s administrative profile continues to expand, and an honest appraisal of its capabilities and impartiality cannot yet be rendered, activists expect the Idlib Province Administration to eventually resemble civil administration at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey. Run by Ahrar al-Sham, locals consider Bab al-Hawa to be fairly and effectively managed, especially in light of it being run an armed group.
The array of popular movements and local councils in which tens of thousands of Syrians are already participating serve as the very essence of any democratic system. The fact that the Assad regime, ISIS, and other Islamist factions have displayed such vitriol for Syrian civil society underscores just why it remains so important.'
' “It was days before we found out,” said Mrs Alabbasi. “Now I do barely sleep at night. We don’t know where they are or how they are, we don’t even know if they are alive.” A dentist by trade, Rania had also been Syria’s national chess champion several times over. When military intelligence officers arrested her, they stole her awards, along with money, jewellery, the family cars, according to her sister. They also took her six children. “What chance is there for a child when adults barely survive those prisons? Her youngest is just two years old,” said Mrs Alabbasi. “We think of them every day.”
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), a monitoring group, has collected the names of 58,148 who are believed to have been forcibly disappeared since March 2011, the first month of Syria’s revolution, and who remain missing.
Raneem Ma’touq, a 24-year-old fine arts student from Homs, was forcibly disappeared for two months in 2014. Taken from her house at gunpoint in the night, she spent months inside a 3m cell shared with 10 other women. During one brutal interrogation, she said she became hysterical, singing at the top of her lungs. “I was punished for that,” she said. “The director... hung me almost by the throat and kept hitting me. But others had it worse.”Ms Ma’touq’s ordeal is not over. Her father Khalil, a renowned human rights lawyer who defended hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, is also missing, arrested from his car in Damascus during October 2013.
Amnesty International said on Monday that it believed the regime’s disappearances had been carried out as part of “an organised attack against the civilian population that has been widespread, as well as systematic, and therefore amount to crimes against humanity".
Waiting for news of Rania, Mrs Alabbasi said she had given up asking why the family’s ordeal had begun. “In Syria you cannot ask the regime why it does this,” she said. “They do not need an excuse to do what they want.” '
Wednesday, 4 November 2015
'Anwar al-Bunni was bundled into a car, blindfolded and beaten. He was charged with seeking to overthrow the regime, threatening public order, incitement to sectarian hatred and being in contact with foreign powers.
He was sentenced to five years, which he was forced to spend not among political prisoners but criminal detainees. Some rules were specially adapted for Bunni: he was forbidden from having any reading material other than official Syrian newspapers. “They put me in with murderers, to push me more and more,” he says.
In the years since his release from prison, a catastrophic four-year war has torn Syria apart. The world’s response has caused Bunni to revise his view of just how much outsiders care. “The world has closed its eyes to what is happening in Syria,” he says in a phone interview from Germany, where he now lives with his family.
He criticises western states for indicating they may be willing to see Assad remain in power for the duration of any political transition and dismisses the view that Assad should be strengthened as a bulwark against Islamic State (IS). “Daesh (IS) came from outside Syria. It was Bashar and his party that let them come.”
Particularly galling, he says, is the impunity with which the Assad regime can act. “There is no future for Syria if the people responsible for war crimes are not brought to justice. The world is wasting time while people are suffering and dying. Nobody has taken a decision to end this tragedy.” '
'Samar Yazbek’s shocking, searing, and beautiful new book, The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria, describes three visits to Idlib province in northern Syria, an area liberated from the Assad dictatorship “on the ground but betrayed by the sky.” Bashar al-Assad’s forces had been driven from the rural border zones. From a distance, however, via warplanes and long-range artillery, they implemented a policy of scorched earth and collective punishment.
Through self-organized committees and councils, Yazbek is told, “each region now has its own administration, and every village looks after itself.” This—Syrians’ willed self-determination, Syrian creativity amid destruction—is the positive story so often missed in the news cycle, and it represents a hope for the future, faint though it is. The activists know they are working against insurmountable odds, but continue anyway. They document atrocities and reach out to international media, an endeavor that has so far failed to bear tangible fruit. When they can, they laugh—it’s “as though they inhaled laughter like an antidote to death.”
Her constant companions, protectors, and fixers are men of the Free Syrian Army, “an extremely diverse set of groups, with varying characteristics and attitudes—from the cruel to the compassionate.” They ought to be called “armed people’s resistance brigades,” she opines, given that they are “really just ordinary people such as one might meet in the street.” These locals, trying to defend their communities, are starved for funds, weapons and ammunition. “If we had anti-aircraft guns,” one complains, “Assad would have fallen long ago.”
It’s an extra mark of Yazbek’s courage that she chose to travel in this difficult territory even though she’s an Alawite, a member of the Shia-offshoot sect to which Assad and most of his security chiefs belong. “The Alawites can’t stay in Syria,” she is told by a militia leader, one of the hundreds of extremists released from regime prisons in 2011 even as non-violent democrats were being rounded up en masse. Between regime violence and Islamist reaction, the space for dissident Syrians like her is shrinking. But it’s in part awareness of this tragedy that makes her hosts so eager to accomodate her. “They didn’t want to believe what was happening was a sectarian war,” she writes, “and their proof was my presence.” '
Tuesday, 3 November 2015
'To our understanding, the main battle for Syria and Iraq has taken place between the forces of Assad's regime and the ISIS. One aspiring to establish a Caliphate, the other trying to hold on to his throne at all costs. Yet, Henin proceeds to establish the many ways in with the ISIS and Assad's regime are complicit with one another. Take for example, the number of times the Islamic State has actually fought the Syrian army over the course of the bloody war: